“It’s in all the papers,” muttered Madge under her breath. “Her memory wiped out, just like that, out of the blue? This can’t be happening.”
She was nervously pacing up and down the opulent Abney Hall corridor as Dr. Doyle clumsily attempted to reassure her. Each of her steps on the thick carpet sent a barely noticeable layer of dust flying into the air. This is exactly what was needed, she thought: for the dust to settle. Indeed, the events of the past few days had lifted a considerable amount of dust into public consciousness. Her sister was used to dealing with this kind of attention, but Madge much preferred a quiet life, free from journalistic inquiries. Soon, reporters would start showing up at her doorstep. What was she supposed to tell them?
“Memory is a mystery in many ways,” Doyle explained. “It flows like water under normal circumstances, but trauma can block its path along the way, leaving us all scrambling to figure out where the water went.”
“Very well spoken,” said Madge, slightly annoyed. “If only your prose was enough to make her remember, we’d be out of the woods by now.”
“What she needs is time. These are classic symptoms of a fugue state. The divorce probably precipitated the episode, but it’s usually temporary.”
“Is there nothing else we can do? The press wants answers; to be quite honest, I want answers as well…”
Dr. Doyle hesitated. Rushing things had never been his preferred approach, but this was not just any patient. Truth be told, he was quite curious himself. Doctors read the papers too, and the story at hand was as peculiar as it gets. It’s not every day a man has to treat a celebrity in the midst of a scandal.
“I will need some objects,” continued Doyle. “Objects that could trigger her memory. It could be anything, photographs, books, jewels, perfumes… I’ll try sensory therapy.”
“Yes. Quite a lot of research has been done on it over the past years. Under hypnosis, stimulation of her senses might help to unlock her memory. It should be objects that have a strong tie to her past, one for each sense. As her sister, I’m sure you know what pieces she needs to complete the puzzle.”
Madge remained silent. Did she really know the Patient? Her sibling had always been an enigma after all. The last week had proven exactly how much of an mystery she truly was.
Madge and Doyle cautiously entered the Victorian bedroom, glancing nervously at the Patient lying in her bed. She was awake, although her blank stare made one question to what extent she was aware of her surroundings. Madge carried a wicker basket, its contents hidden by a piece of scarlet cloth. The room betrayed wealth, with its large wooden boudoir by the window and its upright piano in the easternmost corner.
There was a diary wide open on the Patient’s nightstand, and a pen in her right hand. Madge approached and tried to decipher the writings on the page. Among the scribbles and the gibberish, a few words were recognizable:
Lost… Why… Neele… Alone… Always…
She removed the pen from the Patient’s hand and pressed her palm against hers, hoping to share a glimmer of warmth or comfort through touch. Even though her sister could not remember the slightest thing about her identity, she still had the urge to write, and Madge was once again impressed by this unadulterated passion for the literary arts, a burning fire in her heart that defied amnesia.
“I’m glad you got some rest,” whispered Madge softly. “You seem well rested, at least. Are you?”
The Patient nodded, her face still devoid of any emotion.
“Do you remember who I am?” asked Madge, hopeful.
This time, the Patient’s lips moved. Optimism flooded through Madge like a river breaking through a dam. She was about to say yes, Madge was sure of it. Her memory must have been on the verge of coming back. It was all so obvious, someone as bright and clever as her sister could not stay in this state for long. All of this worry had been for nothing.
The word fell upon Madge like a heavy concrete bloc. It was as if hope had vanished from the surface of the earth, or from England at least. At this point, she knew it was unlikely the Patient’s memory would come back on its own. Doyle’s therapy was the only option, and even then it was shooting for the stars. How could the touch of a mere object trigger a reaction when the presence of her own sister left her cold and distant?
The Doctor got closer and sat at the foot of the bed.
“Has any memory at all come back to you?” he asked. “Your name, your address, today’s date?”
“Nothing,” responded the patient. “It’s all a blur.”
Dr. Doyle took out a newspaper and placed it into her hands. She read the date on the front page: December 15th, 1926. The picture felt familiar, and she looked into the boudoir mirror to make sure she wasn’t mistaken. It was indeed her very own face, plastered there in black and white in the middle of a central frame. Why it was there, she could not have answered. The Patient was as clueless to her fame as she was to her very existence.
“Who am I?” she asked, a tremor of despair in her voice. “I don’t even know how I got here.”
“You were found at the Hydro in Harrogate yesterday,” explained Doyle. “You disappeared for many days. It was as if you were trying to run away from something, or someone. Perhaps from yourself.”
“I want to remember,” she insisted. “I want to stop running.”
“Certainly,” said Doyle. “I would like to try an experiment if you don’t mind.” The Patient nodded approvingly, and he took out a golden pendulum that shimmered in the afternoon sunlight filtering through the curtains. “Hypnosis can unlock the doors of the mind that have been closed. Are you ready to have these doors opened?”
The Patient agreed, and Doyle began oscillating his pendulum from left to right.
“Focus on the back and forth movement,” he urged her. “On the ebb and flow. The push and pull. The tides of your past experiences have receded from the shores of your mind, but together, we can make the water rise again. All you need is to awaken your senses. Your sight; your touch; your hearing; your taste; your smell. Make sure they are all at their full potential, as acute as they can be.”
The hypnosis was successful: the Patient appeared to be in a trance, her blank stare now firmly focused on the pendulum. Doyle put it down and grabbed the first object from Madge’s wicker basket: a photograph.
“Look closely,” he said.
It was the Patient in her childhood. She must have been eleven, or twelve at the latest. Her eyes lingered over her youthful face. Pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
“Ashfield,” muttered the Patient. Madge’s face lit up.
“Yes,” she said. “Ashfield, yes, that’s our childhood home.”
“The frayed red curtain leading to the kitchen,” she continued. “The sunflower brass fender. I loved this house. Everything about it.”
Madge encouragingly turned to Doyle. Her smile said it all. The Patient was getting every detail right.
“Good,” beamed Doyle. “Very good. Now, let’s put this on. Time to delve deeper into your identity.”
He handed her a blindfold. The patient put it on. A few seconds later, he was inserting a pair of gloves between her fingers.
“Touch,” encouraged Doyle.
The Patient rubbed her thumbs against the fabric, trying to feel its thickness and texture. These were long velvet gloves of a dark ruby shade.
Madge grew elated again.
“That’s mother!” she exclaimed. “You remember mother?”
“It’s not really a memory,” explained the Patient. “More like a sensation. I picture someone soft and caring touching me with these gloves. Someone named Clara.”
“That’s alright,” he assured her. “It might not feel like a memory, but I can assure you it is one. Let’s try hearing now.”
Doyle took the gloves away and looked at Madge. It was her cue. She got up and walked towards the piano, her fingers hovering over the keys. Slowly, like someone who had not touched the instrument in years, she played a series of notes. The Patient recognized them instantly.
“Moonlight Sonata,” she said. “I played this in Paris.”
“You did,” Madge confirmed as she stopped playing. “You’re a gifted player. Everyone thought you could have done concert halls.”
“I did not,” insisted the Patient. “I thought I had no discipline, no talent.”
“My dear sister,” said Madge. “You always had so much talent. Why you would ever doubt yourself, I’ll never know.”
Doyle proceeded to take out a box of Belgian chocolates from the wicker basket and handed one over to the Patient.
As soon as the chocolate entered her mouth, it prompted a strong, powerful reaction.
“Chocolate,” she whispered. “Belgian, if I’m not mistaken. This is so oddly familiar. I remember tasting one, and thinking… of this man…”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t quite know who he is. Somehow, I’m not even sure if I ever met him. This will sound strange, but I think I… created him. It’s like he came from the depths of my mind.”
“Can you describe him to me?”
“His head is shaped like an egg. His moustache commands respect. His clothing is impeccable.”
Doyle exchanged looks with Madge again. The pieces were all falling into place. It was time for the most painful piece to be collected now. Hesitantly, he pulled out a bottle of cologne and fired a spray.
“Can you smell this for me?”
The Patient sniffed. The aromatic vapor went deep into her olfactory tracks, and right away she knew to whom the bottle belonged. It was indeed the missing piece. Everything came back to her in a lightning flash. The tides rushed back up the shores of her mind, as Doyle had described. She vividly remembered the night they met. The dance at Ugbrooke. The chilly October air. The way he swept her off her feet. His military uniform. The passion of young love.
The darker times came back too. Their fights. Her mother’s death. His affair with Nancy Neele. The divorce. The night she left.
“It’s his cologne,” she said with certainty. “Archie’s. My husband’s. My former husband’s.”
She took off the blindfold and looked in the mirror once more. The pain was still there, but she wasn’t afraid to feel it anymore. For all the difficult memories that came back, countless more happy ones surged, from her childhood to her novels. Madge came back by her side, seizing her hand again.
“What’s my name?” she asked, and this time there was no doubt in her mind her sister would answer correctly.
“Where are we?” Doyle followed.
“And who are you?”
The Patient took a deep breath. She was finally at peace with her identity. There was nothing to hide from herself.
“Agatha,” she proudly declared. “My name is Agatha Christie.”